Singing the Star Spangled Banner

I did something last weekend that not everybody gets the chance to do – I sang the national anthem for a football game (in the summer, no less!). I got there about twenty minutes early, made myself at home in the field, and headed up to the press box about five minutes before the start of the game. When it was my turn, the public address announcer handed me the microphone. I sang for about two, two and a half minutes, handed the microphone, and that was that.

The national anthem really is a pretty difficult song – it spans at least one and a half octaves, the full range of which has to be vibrant and confident, and is a real test of phrasing and breath control. Just look at the poetry here –

Oh say can you see by the dawn’s early light

What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming

It’s really proper to sing each full line with one breath, but the phrases are so long and wide ranging, that many singers chose to take breaths after see and hailed. This is OK as long as you use that extra air support to shape the phrase more musically. Unfortunately, a lot of singers get caught in no man’s land – either singing plain phrases with extra breaths, or hoping to make it the whole way with one breath, and ending up without enough breath to actually make it. Both of these happenstances occurred more times than I cared to count in auditions for my college a cappella groups.

I really enjoyed singing the national anthem, and found it to be a musically fulfilling experience. When I reached the climactic phrase – the Land of the Free – some of the football players lifted their helmets up, and the crowd started cheering, and it spurred me on to do my best. It really was a privilege to be able to share these few musical moments with my community, and to be a part of bringing people together in such a positive way.

For more on the Star Spangled Banner, check out my post on how the Star Spangled Banner didn’t always sound like it does today. To end with, join me in admiring Whitney Houston singing the song.


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